Listening Toward Our Futures: Ten Letters

It’s been a minute since I shared an update, thanks to another whirlwind teaching semester. But before time slips away even further, I wanted to share a few more images from Invitations to Listen at the Mulvane Art Museum. The exhibition has been extended until June 5 (hooray!) and I’ve had more opportunities for cool interactions with Washburn faculty and students across disciplines (more about that in a later post).

As a lifelong letter-writer, I have long considered letters to be a form of listening — a reciprocal engagement, an almost contractual offer that if you listen to me, then I, in turn, will listen to you. During my 2021-22 Fulbright period at the University of Alberta, I had the good fortune to have access to a letterpress, which I knew immediately would be the right format for the epistolary poems I had been writing in thinking toward our shared futures, and what we need to get us there.

There are 10 of these epistolary texts on display in Invitations to Listen, in a case beautifully made to the letters’ specifications for display. Visitors linger over the almost-handwritten text (48-point Typoscript Extended, a beautiful German typeface) and I have answered many questions about particular words or phrases, about what I intend or hope for in their invocation.

Part of listening toward our shared, sustainable futures means paying attention to the processes, the handheld forms of listening, that are at risk of being lost — processes that slow us down and cause us to focus on what is right in front of us. Setting type by hand does that for me, and I spent hours in the print studio doing just that during my time in Edmonton. I listened to the words, I listened to the shape of the letters and the sounds that they make, and I listened to the rhythms in my own hands as they learned anew the process of typesetting, fishing each letter from its place in the drawer and clicking it into place.

While this exhibition does not include a sound score of these epistolary poems, part of my listening also revolves around dear friends who have spoken these words aloud for me. So often now, I hear my words in their voices. Through these epistolary texts, speaking to our shared, urgent, connective futures, I imagine them across the miles and across the oceans. The texts invoke our relational connections, forged in many different ways but tying us together with invisible threads. I listen with them, and for them.


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